Can a Georgia workers’ comp claimant pursue late penalties that are 10 years past due?

Meet Michael Reid, an employee of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). In October 1999, Reid was injured on the job. He played by the rules and filed a claim within the designated time period, and for his trouble, was awarded temporary total disability (TTD) payments–32 of them, to be exact. Of those 32 payments, 12 were ruled untimely or late, making MARTA subject to a 15% penalty paid in full to Mr. Reid.

martaUpon returning to work in June 2002, Reid stopped receiving TTD payments, despite the fact that he was owed statutory penalties on all late payments–a small detail that MARTA happily overlooked. In May 2010, Reid decided that it was time to call in his debts. His attorney sent a polite letter to MARTA, reminding them of their previous oversight, and requesting that they honor the initial agreement.

As you might have guessed, MARTA declined Reid’s request, noting that the two-year statute of limitations had expired years ago. The administrative judge reviewing the case seconded MARTA’s motion, ruling that a request for long overdue statutory penalties constituted a “change in condition,” and that Reid was seeking “additional benefits.”

So, as long as a workers’ comp insurer ignores its obligation to pay late penalties for long enough, it’s in the clear?

Does an employer’s blatant violation of statutory regulations governing when payments are due and utter disregard for the penalties resulting from said violation constitute a change in the employee’s “condition”? No, according to the Georgia Court of Appeals, as it reversed the lower court’s decision.

Although Reid’s delayed request for statutory penalties may open Pandora’s Box, the fact remains that MARTA’s only real defense comes from a troubling loophole in Georgia Workers’ Compensation statutes. After all, late fees do not cease to exist simply because we decide not to pay them. And, as noted by Michael Reid’s attorney, a mangled reading of the existing legislature will only perpetuate the problem.  I would expect that this case will ultimately be heard by the Georgia Supreme Court.  Should that occur, we’ll know for sure whether statutory penalties are subject to the “change in condition” statute of limitations, but for now, the answer appears to be “no.”

At Moebes Law, we believe that our judicial system is only as good the people who uphold it. If you or your family has been injured on the job or denied claim benefits that are rightfully yours, contact Atlanta’s leading workers’ compensation firm at (404) 354-5432 for a free consultation today.

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